One of the surprising experiences of last year for the Brookhaven High School football team came when 2009 graduate Anthony Johnson earned the starting middle linebacker job and went on to finish with 60 tackles.

One of the surprising experiences of last year for the Brookhaven High School football team came when 2009 graduate Anthony Johnson earned the starting middle linebacker job and went on to finish with 60 tackles.

Finding players such as Johnson is one thing coach Anthony Thornton loves to do in the preseason.

With several starting positions at running back, linebacker and in the offensive line and defensive secondary available for the taking, Thornton and his staff have continued to keep their eyes peeled.

The Bearcats open Friday at Marion-Franklin, a Division II playoff qualifier last season.

"We're getting there," said Thornton, whose team finished 9-2 overall and 7-0 in the City League-North Division in his first season. "It's camp, and you're always trying to find out who's who. You're always looking for those diamonds in the rough. Each year we have guys who end up being big contributors that we weren't expecting."

One player who the Bearcats know they can count on also plays in the area that is one of the team's biggest strengths -- the defensive line.

Senior defensive end Derrick Bryant (6-foot-4, 235) captured the hearts of recruiters throughout the nation in the offseason, garnering scholarship offers from Michigan, UCLA, Kentucky and Kansas and several other Big Ten programs.

Also back on the line are seniors Zaphere Carroll (5-10, 235) and D.J. Greggs (6-1, 215) and sophomore Ari Backus (6-1, 205). Seniors DeCorey Evans (5-10, 210) and Lamar Harris (6-2, 195) and junior Quinton Griffin (6-0, 215) also could see time up front.

Senior Marcus Reed (6-0, 205) is expected to take over at middle linebacker, with seniors Louis Ford (5-10, 175) and Davion Broomfield (5-9, 200) and juniors Corey Marshall (5-11, 195) and Frank Marsh (6-0, 190) also vying for playing time.

Seniors Michael Sellers (5-11, 175) and Jeff Williams (5-9, 155) will be at cornerback, with junior Lentwan Smith (5-11, 175) and senior Ryland Ward (5-10, 190) expected to be at safety.

Last season, Brookhaven gave up just 21 points in seven City-North games on the way to winning their second consecutive league championship. Defensive backs Hassan Coleman (six interceptions) and Ed Dunaway (50 tackles) and linebacker Galvin Bonner were among those lost to graduation.

"We've only got five returning starters on offense and on the defensive side we return six up front and two in the secondary," Thornton said. "Once again the inexperience factor is the part that we need to figure out."

The strength of the Bearcats' offense could be their stable of wide receivers.

Seniors DeShawn Alston (5-11, 175) and Deonta Stenson (6-2, 180) bring athleticism after having strong track seasons, and senior William Tweedy (5-10, 170) is one of the school's best baseball players.

In an offense which features multiple sets and play-action, Stenson could see time at wide receiver or tight end. Backus, Bryant and senior Ishmael McKinney (5-10, 175) also could play tight end.

Ward and sophomore Tajuan Green (6-0, 170) each saw time at quarterback in the preseason, with Ward the likely starter.

Expected to fill roles in the backfield are senior Antoine White (5-9, 180), junior Donivan Lipsey (5-7, 170), sophomore Jonzelle Meeks (5-10, 170) and Marsh.

Evans moves from guard to center and will take on a key role on the offensive line. Junior Antonio Johnson (5-10, 205) should start at left tackle, with Marshall, Ford and seniors Patrick Glenn (5-10, 205) and Deon Hill (5-10, 205) as other candidates.

Last season, 2009 graduate Andrew Herrell scored 22 touchdowns and ran for more than 1,500 yards rushing while making the ThisWeek Super 25 team. Quarterback Cameron Brown also graduated after passing for 1,100 yards with 11 touchdowns.

Brookhaven lost to an OCC school in a first-round Division I playoff game for the third time in four years last season when it fell to Worthington Kilbourne 14-6.

Chillicothe and Dayton Chaminade-Julienne have since been replaced on the schedule by the Red Devils -- who have made the Division II playoffs each of the past five seasons -- and Dublin Coffman (Sept. 11). Hilliard Davidson, which handed the Bearcats their only regular-season loss last year, will visit Sept. 4.

After four seasons at Division I, the Bearcats move drop to Division II for the first time since winning the 2004 state title.

"I wouldn't say that it's fun until you get into the playoffs, and then it's business and fun," Ward said. "We've got three big (games) right off the top so we're focusing on Marion-Franklin. This is the first time that we've had a lot of new positions to fill, so it's been all about rebuilding and making sure we're on the same page. We're going to be ready."